Beyond a Community College

In many ways, FVCC has differentiated itself from traditional community colleges

By Kellyn Brown

A few months ago I ate at a student-led pop-up restaurant at Flathead Valley Community College. The place was buzzing. Every table in the commercial kitchen was filled with locals ordering dinner in an environment unique to Kalispell. The experience was just another example of the school’s growth over the last decade.

FVCC has nearly outgrown what many consider a traditional “community college.” Yes, it’s all about community, as evidenced by recent large donations it has received from area philanthropists and its continued involvement of residents at everything from job fairs to symposiums.

But “community” in the title often indicates small, or a college for nontraditional students, or a place young people earn general education credits before transferring to a larger university. FVCC is so much more than that. And in many ways, it has differentiated itself from traditional community colleges, at least the one I was enrolled in.

As a high school senior I attended Spokane Falls Community College as part of the “Running Start” program. At that time, most of the students simply attended classes and left. It was a fine school, but not a place where non-students spent much time — in contrast to university settings that often attract residents with theater, lectures and concerts.

To be sure, FVCC is first and foremost a place of learning, but over the last decade it has redefined what a community college can aspire to be. It doles out hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships. It’s building a campus more reminiscent of a larger school. And it attracts an astonishing number of private donations.

In 2008, the inaugural Festival of Flavors — now a flagship fundraiser for the school — raised $30,000 for student scholarships. In 2015, the same event raised $200,000.

In 2012, the Broussard family donated $4 million to the college, at the time the largest in the college’s history, to build a nursing and health education center. FVCC raised an additional $1.3 million over the next nine months, and the building, which opened in April 2013, was the first privately funded on campus.

In 2015, the school board of trustees approved plans to build student housing on campus — somewhat unusual for a community college. The 51,500-square-foot facility cost $7.8 million to build and opened its doors last August. It completely sold out and houses 124 students.

And now, in what is the school’s most ambitious plan to date, it recently launched the FVCC One Campaign, which will greatly expand its campus over the next two years with the construction of a 12,000-square-foot Library and Learning Commons and 50,000-square-foot College Center. The campaign has an ambitious goal of raising a combined $18 million in private funds. And it’s well on its way.

The first project, the $3 million learning commons, is already funded, led by a $2.5 million gift from the Broussard family. Construction begins this spring.

And last week, the school got much closer to its goal of raising $15 million for the College Center, which will include a performance hall and activity complex for sports. Local businessman Paul Wachholz announced he would be donating $4 million toward the project.

Expected to break ground next year and open in 2020, the College Center will serve as the heart of the school and new home for the Glacier Symphony. It’s another example of how Flathead Valley Community College has outgrown what many think a community college can be. And we’re lucky to have it in our community.

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